“The odd time he’ll pose or stand in front of a car but generally my style is fly-on-the-wall, candid photographs. I literally follow him everywhere and constantly take photos. He’s so used to me now that he doesn’t even notice that I’m there.”
Dave Fogarty is an amateur MMA fighter, IMMAF World Championships silver medal holder and personal photographer to Conor McGregor.
From first picking up a camera four years ago to millions of likes on Instagram and boasting celebrity fans from Drake to Jack Osbourne, Hannah O’Connell chats to Dave aka Ginger Beard Photography about his brief yet booming career ahead of his footage appearing in new documentary ‘Conor McGregor: Notorious’.
How long have you been taking photographs for and did you always dream of becoming a professional photographer?
I’ve been taking photographs for about four years. I originally just started messing with a camera then I went off to Australia for a year. I was working in a bank and I was making serious money but I just hated it. I couldn’t stand working there anymore so I decided fuck it; I’m just going to be a photographer. When I came home I did a three year course in Griffith College and I just took it from there.
Did you always want to focus on sport photography?
Yeah, I always wanted to focus on sports. It originally started when I was in DCU and I did a degree in Communications and one of our modules was photography. I was doing that and training in MMA and kickboxing at the time and I thought this is definitely something I can do and still train at the same time. I would just bring my camera to training and take a few photos for whatever project I had to do at the time. When I went to Griffith College they kept telling me to shoot other things but I just had no interest in doing fashion or landscape or any of that kind of stuff.
When did you first meet Conor McGregor?
The first time I met Conor was just after he fought his first UFC fight. I had known about him for years but I had never actually met him until he was in the UFC. I was photographing some of the lads from SBG (Straight Blast Gym) and he just happened to be there. He was training so I snapped a few photographs of him. He like the photos and asked me to come back down any time he was there.
How did you make the leap to becoming his personal photographer?
He liked my style and he knows that I train and I fight as well, he knows that I know what he wants to see. When he fought Nate Diaz the second time he asked me to come and photograph some of his training camp. I came down and I was doing that for a few weeks and I think he regretted not bringing me over (to Las Vegas) with him.
After the fight was finished I was talking to him and he told me he liked my photos then this time around he told me to come and photograph the whole camp and asked me to go on the World Tour and to America with him. That’s how it became a full time job. When he did the six weeks of putting out my photographs on his Instagram he said he couldn’t go back to just taking pictures on his phone.
I think that one of the reasons Conor McGregor is so famous and has fans that would never have followed MMA before is because he shares so much on Instagram. Did that come from him or were people telling him that this is what he needs to do?
He has an agent and stuff but no one tells him what to do. Everything that he puts up, all the captions, it’s all him. He just decided one day that he really wanted to have good pictures on his Instagram. He really wanted to show people what he could do and I think the best way to do that is with high-quality, professional photographs.
I never told him anything. The odd time he’ll pose or stand in front of a car but generally my style is fly-on-the-wall, candid photographs. I literally follow him everywhere and constantly take photos. He’s so used to me now that he doesn’t even notice that I’m there. Everything is so organic. I don’t make him do anything. He doesn’t ask me to do anything. I’m literally just there with him.
For the (Floyd Mayweather) camp I was there with him all the time. Whenever he would go shopping he would take me with him, just snapping those intimate family photographs. There’s crazy amount of photographs that I have that I would never release. They’re so personal and he just likes having them.
Do you send him all the shots and let him decide what does and doesn’t get posted?
For an average day, if we’re doing something, I can take between 100 to 160 photographs. Sometimes he doesn’t put up any. I’ll send him ones I think are brilliant and I’m thinking he’ll definitely put this up and he won’t put up any. Other times I’ll send him loads and he’ll tell the whole story of the whole day. I think that’s what’s so good about it, there’s no PR agency behind him. It’s just purely Conor. You kind of get a look into how his mind works and how he operates from looking at his Instagram.
What does it feel like to see photos that you’ve taken get millions of likes and celebrity attention?
I think it’s mental. I’ll see him (Conor) share a photo and I’ll just like it and forget about it and other times I’ll think about it and it’s mental, a million and a half people have just liked my photo. Sometimes I creep to see what celebrities have liked them. Your man Odell Beckham Jr. is always liking Conor’s stuff and Drake is always commenting and liking and that’s crazy. Drake is liking pictures that I’ve taken, it’s really surreal. I’ve got WhatsApps from Jack Osbourne before and it’s mental. When we went on the world tour and I saw the private jets I just thought how have I found myself in this situation?
What’s the most surreal moment you’ve experienced since becoming Conor McGregor’s personal photographer?
The whole World Tour was surreal. Meeting Drake was a cool moment. The most surreal moment was when we were just shopping in Gucci and I was taking photos in the store but the store doesn’t allow anyone to take photos inside. Security came over to me and told me you can’t take any pictures but then he (Conor) came over and was like no he’s cool, he’s my personal photographer. That was a moment where I was like holy shit. He’s just Conor to me. When you’re in the camp you’re removed from what’s going on but then I realise he’s not just one of the biggest sports stars, he’s one of the biggest celebrities in the world. You go anywhere with him and it’s just thousands of people following him.
So many people told me to stop doing combat sports photography. You’re not going to make any money off it; you’re not going to do anything with it. People told me that if I want to do sports, go and do football, GAA and stuff. I hated the idea of it, standing in a big field photographing something where I have no idea what’s going on. That day I just thought I’ve definitely made the right choice here, I’ve persevered.
Are there any downsides to the job?
There’s a lot of travel involved with it. When Conor fights I can be away from all my friends and family for six or seven weeks. A lot of work does go into it… you’ll usually see me in the background running around with a laptop in one hand, trying to balance a charger in the other hand and a 25 kilo camera bag on my back so it can be a bit stressful.
I always have in my head that I need to get the best photographs I can of him (Conor). Like he knows what he wants and if I do something bad he’ll have no problem telling me that’s crap. He’s such a perfectionist. It can be a bit stressful. He doesn’t get ready, he stays ready and that’s the same for everyone who works for him. You have to stay ready and be ready for anything. He can drop you a message at any time and I just have to get up and leave. He could say be in the gym in 15 minutes and I live a half an hour away but I’m going to be in that gym in 15 minutes.
Now that his following has grown, has the pressure on you grown with that?
Sometimes I think about it and I’m like oh Jesus, a million people are going to see this and sometimes I think these (photos) aren’t the best, this photographer would have done it way better, that photographer would have done it like this but as long as he likes my stuff that’s all that really matters to me.
You must have taken thousands of photos of Conor at this stage. Do you ever struggle to find inspiration?
I backed up everything I did from the Mayweather camp and it was four terabytes of images which is just hundreds of thousands of pictures and you think I would be running out of ideas but he’s just so stylish. I tell people that I’ve the easiest job in the world; I point the camera at him, I make sure it’s in focus and he does the rest.
There’s just something about him. He’s just so charismatic and has such a presence. Anyone could be in a room, Drake or David Beckham and when Conor walks in everyone looks at him. Everyone’s attention is on him and he just holds it so well. He doesn’t force it and I think that comes across in the photographs. Everything he does is natural. It’s just him being him and everyone seems to love it.
Do you have a favourite photo that you’ve taken of Conor?
I have a few but they keep changing. At the minute my favourite photographs are the first good one I ever took of him, he’s coming back from a media day and he has on this custom made August McGregor suit and he’s standing between two Rolls Royces wearing a pair of Ugg slippers because he didn’t want to be uncomfortable, I love that one. I love the one from the World Tour where he’s in a Gucci mink jacket with all the lights on him. The Rolls Royce one seems to have gotten very popular and any picture of him with his top off for some reason seems to do big numbers on Instagram, I can’t imagine why.
Tell me about the footage you shot which appears in the upcoming Conor McGregor: Notorious documentary.
All the footage from when he fights Nate Diaz the first time is my footage. It was cool being asked to go over and do it especially when it was being bought by someone as big as Universal Pictures and when it’s going to be in the cinema and stuff.
I had no idea what I was doing. In college I had done like two or three classes on film. They just said do you want to go over and do it and I jumped at the chance. I was hardly going to say no. I had footage of when he loses the fight and all the backstage stuff with his Mam. It was then that I thought shit they’re going to definitely use this. When I went over everyone expected him to win so when he loses it becomes such a turning point in the movie, the whole story is based around how he comes back.
Is film something that you want to do more of in the future?
It is something I would like to get into in the future because so many people ask. It’s nearly expected that if you do photography you do videography.
What are your aspirations and plans for the future?
I want to keep working with Conor and keep building my portfolio. I want to do celebrity lifestyle photography. I want to keep doing the sports side of it but I want to branch out and maybe get in touch with a few other big sports stars like NFL and NBA players. I want to show them how they should be portraying themselves; you’re getting a 100 million over three years on an NFL contract and you’re taking pictures on you iPhone? I have a few plans for my images with Conor as well. You never know, you might see an exhibition or a book coming out. I am extremely grateful to Conor for everything that he’s done for me and everything that he’s helped me do. He’s done so much for me. He’s changed my career.
Finally, what tips do you have for someone who is just starting out with their photography career?
Sometimes I think my photos aren’t even that good and who am I to give anyone advice! So many people take up photography and think you have to do wedding photography or fashion photography. You don’t have to do anything. Find something you’re passionate about and just keep doing it, no matter what anyone tells you.
I kept trying to copy people at the start and comparing my work to theirs but I just decided one day that I’m going to do it how I like it. Develop your own style. I take inspiration from people but everything I do, I do it my way. Keep at it, do it your way, don’t listen to anyone else and it will eventually work out.
Check out Dave’s website here.
Follow Dave’s work on Instagram here.
Conor McGregor: Notorious is released in Ireland on Wednesday November 1.